Building a training culture…worth the effort!

I direct this article toward small businesses that want to develop a training culture, create or access and deliver programs that maximize productivity and profit.

 Two facts are important.  First, untrained people typically fail or, at best, under-perform.  Their mistakes and omissions lower your service level, damage your image in the marketplace and eventually, cost you money.  Second, if you don’t devote significant time and resources to building and administering a serious teaching program, building staff skills isn’t easy.  So, we have a need to train and a challenge in making it happen.

 Below are some practical suggestions that will enable the smallest business to train more effectively.

 Designate someone who cares.  Training is a management responsibility.  Still, managers may not always be available to deliver training.  Rather than try and fail because you are too busy, delegate. Use training as a development tool for your most quality oriented team member.  Choose someone who shares you beliefs about doing the job right.  While this is the person who will build your training program, he/she need not be an expert.  Most of the info you’ll need is readily available.  Your ‘trainer’ must focus equally on task completion and on the people who make it happen. Effective and enthusiastic communication is mandatory.  Select the trainer accordingly.

  • Organize topics in ‘need to know’ sequence.  Limit initial training objectives.  Begin with the job description.  What is it the employee must know or be able to do first?  Begin your training there.  Teaching in a logical need-to-know sequence, according to job requirements, will improve retention of the information and make more sense on the job.  Information I’ll call “nice to know”, while often more interesting to the trainer, tends to reduce clarity for new people and can be confusing.  Trainees must understand what is important now.   
  • Plan training in ‘small bites’.  Spend some initial development time re-formatting important but often boring information.  Emphasize most important points and critical knowledge in concise, easy to understand ‘bites’ or learning modules.  New hires cannot and will not absorb extensive information.  Initial training should allow the new hire to begin successfully, accomplishing small tasks, one at a time. Do not attempt to create a subject matter expert in a week or two.  Not only is limited ‘small bite’ training easier to absorb and translate to behavior on the job, it is easier for a new trainer to create and deliver.   
  • Use available and inexpensive resources.  In today’s “green industry”, whether your business is focused on design and build, maintenance, landscape or lawn care, the information you need is out there.  One of the first tasks for your new ‘trainer’ should be to network with established and respected companies and trainers in the industry.  Take advantage of the work others have done to pull together necessary information.  You will find most of us are ready to help.  Here are other great resources:

*Pesticide safety/use topics – OSHA website and state extension services.

*Environmental stewardshop – EPA websites [federal and state]

*Driver safety – National safety council, local/state police and for profit training producers [“Google” the topic, you’ll be amazed at the choices available]. 

*Equipment and product use – Manufacturers provide this info in video and written form.

*Plant/pest relationships – Your state extension service is a great resource and all information is free!

*Sales/customer service – “Train the Trainer” seminars can equip your trainer to deliver these topics. Programs are available and can be customized to your needs.

 Finally, remain active in your national and local associations. Take advantage of the resources provided. 

 Many operators just like you have used training to help build a culture of quality

and professionalism.  Why not join the club!


Celebrate Winners, Dump Losers…NOW!

As the year winds down, I want to remind everyone that the customer, while vital, is only half our management audience.  After a long, tiring season full of challenges and hard work, we all need to think about the players on our teams.  If you’re honest, you’ll face the fact that, in every company, on every team, there are winners and losers.

 Oh, I understand that you appreciate your good performers, the ones who show up each day, follow training procedures and meet expectations.  You are surely grateful for every helpful customer communication at the door, on the landscape or via a hand-written note.  And we all love those who hit goals consistently.  But gratitude and appreciation will not amount to much unless you communicate those positive feelings in a meaningful way to your winners.  Take it from me; you CAN make a difference in the way you are perceived by your staff.

 So, now is the time to let your staff know how you feel about their work.  After the Thanksgiving holiday, front line workers in our business begin to assess the year and wonder….was it worth it? Should I stick around after I get my year end bonus?

 If people feel appreciated and understand that you consider them to be important contributors to overall company results, they will be more motivated to stay on and become smarter, more productive veterans next season.  Make that happen now.

 Do the following to maximize positive motivation now:

  • Have a private, one-on-one discussion with each individual on your team.  Review their contribution and verbally acknowledge their personal importance on your team.  Give examples of positive performance that made a difference.  When people feel important their self image and confidence is enhanced.  Do this in private, maybe over lunch or a beer.
  • Look for ways to help people grow.  All of us are motivated as we feel more knowledgeable and useful.  Now is the time to determine which people you can grow with next year.  Who has the skill to grow?  Which people have expressed an interest in learning more, taking on greater responsibility?  When you decide, your next step is to provide additional training.  That can be accomplished through cross-training with other team members or attending educational seminars and events.  Pick topics you know will help and follow up to be sure the learning was taken seriously.
  • Ask each team member how you can be a better leader.  The very fact that you show an open willingness to hear feedback, positive or negative, is important to employee motivation.  If people with ‘issues’ feel you are attempting to make improvements, it makes a big difference in attitude.

What about the ‘others’?

 As you embrace your winners, this is also the time to get rid of those who are either unwilling to meet your expectations and/or are simply negative players.  DO NOT go into the new-year with them aboard!

 If you have provided appropriate job skill training, followed up with coaching on the job and allowed a fair amount of time for the employee to meet reasonable expectations, you have met your management leadership obligation.  Everyone doesn’t succeed. Your obligation is now to the overall success of your team.

 This I know, if you’ve done your best to train and provide inspirational leadership…and still have a loser on your hands, it’s time to cut bait. Hoping and praying for an attitudinal ‘turn around’ is a lot like buying a lottery ticket and expecting to win.  Get the ‘losers’ off your team now. 



Increased productivity delivers greater profit…every time!

Read the post title. Are you surprised? Didn’t think so. Question: If increasing productivity is a cinch to boost the bottom line, why don’t we spend more time doing it? Simple answer; most managers are so wrapped up in getting from the beginning to the end of each mulit-tasked day, they will tell you they “just don’t have the time to stop and make changes.” Besides, if you push the conversation, what you’ll hear is…. “people hate to change…it’s always negative.”

So, here we are. Companies that had great 2009 performance did it one way..they became more productive. And you can too! Inertia can be a real negative. Doing what we’ve always done because…well, because we’ve always done it…is silly. Personally, I really enjoyed 2009! That is true because I spent it working with positive owners and managers who chose not to participate in the “hard times”. One point of view explains, nine out of 10 consumers was really not significantly impacted by the recession. If true, we focus on selling what they will buy…value. And we target those with the ability and desire to move forward, heads way, way out of the sand!

And, to a person, my clients found ways to be more productive; often taking a lower top line revenue performance into a stronger than every bottom line! So, skip the push back folks, it can and is being done.

In early December, I will be presenting at the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation’s conference, in Columbus, Ohio. One of my topics will be “How to Increase Productivity through Effective Front Line Supervision.” In the presentation, I’ll drive home four principles; principles learned not from some egg head’s  or psychological survey but from my 25 years of working out in the field, where the action is, with front line supervisors and their senior management.

This is really not the place for excessive details so, I’ll hope to whet your appetite by just listing four principles I have observed, participate in executing and learned to be valid:

1. Individual productivity [leading to team productivity] begins with the hiring process. We don’t spend enough time or energy on recruiting people with whom we can win.

2. Reasonable expectations and procedures must be set, understood and accepted by all. We are task managers. We set the same goals for everyone, regardless of what tools are in their tool kit. We treat people as clones of a job description…a straw man who never really exists. And people struggle, fail, burn out and quit or are terminated.

3. Initial socialization, training and transition to routine [real world] activity will impact results…100% of the time. Why do we believe training is optional? Da! Smart, trained people are more engaged and productive, always.

4. Individual activity and performance [to the smallest detail] must be tracked with appropriate supervisory reaction on a daily basis [using the common sense coaching process]. I know, we don’t have time. Wrong!

So, these are the principles I’ll discuss. Will it matter? If I’m lucky, maybe one in 10 will react. Not very productive, is it!

Two new business articles

Just a note reminding you to have a look at two new articles in the October issue of Landscape Management magazine.

The first, “Apples to Oranges” features several of my clients, all of whom grew top and bottom lines in the middle of this recession. No BS…just honest results. The article resulted from interest created during my recent live LM webinar..the first in their new Business School web series.

The second article, “Nail the Sale” shows how great results are achieved. Surprising to many, my clients have learned to sell value instead of cutting price and profits to the bone! Again, no theory, just great results! Again, have a look and tell me what you think.

That’s the upcoming issue of  Landscape Management magazine.

2010 Starts Now!

This may come as a shock to my friends and clients in the home services industry but…next year is here, now!

Sure, I know, we are just finishing this year…and we deserve a break. Sorry, no break..not now; not when only the best prepared will grow in this economy. So, you just gotta ask yourself, will I or won’t I be on the winner list this time next year?

If you are committed to growing, you have your work cut out for you. Sure, it can be done…I have numerous clients and contacts who have grown significantly this year. But it wasn’t an accident or quirk of fate. It was the result of planning, training, lots of hands-on follow up, tracking and reacting on a daily basis. Nothing short of that works.

But you can grow.

Next, if you are one of those sad soles who feels you’ve paid your dues, suffered through this recession and are celebrating Ben Bernanke’s decision that “the recession is largely over”, guess again. Ben deals with banks. You deal with homeowners and small businesses. And, flash! The recession is NOT “largely over”. Only a politican or economist would say a thing like that. So, together, we wil l face another tough selling season. You have to be ready..that is, unless you are content to backslide…something I find unacceptable.

If you know my history, you know I helped a small, growing service company grow in the recession of the late 1980’s. We learned that it can be done. But it doesn’t just happen. To succeed in 2010, you will need to be 10% better at everything you do. You will need to hire 10% better, train a tad more effectively, lead, track, react and coach 10% more effectively. So, take my advice…strart next year now! Don’t get lazy. Forget about the flush years past…this is a business war we are in and not all will make it. Be on the winner’s list.

My schedule is filling faster than ever…and that is becsause smart managers are preparing now for tomorrow.

Food for thought.

Teams are out in tough times!

In a football or baseball game, one person alone cannot win. To succeed, people need to combine indivudual skills, ideas and enthusiam for the good of all. But folks, staying afloat in a recesssion of this magnitude is not a team sport; at least not typically.

In times like these, my experience is clear on one point; it’s the strong, persistent individual who succeeds first. Granted, a great individual performance can and and should pull weaker players along, and the team can win. But it is the never say die leader in the group that makes it happen.

So, have your team meetings, talk about working together and helping each other, etc. After that, look for the determined person who simply is not going to be a victim of tough times. That person is your winner.

I know, sounds corny; even writing this I feel sort of corny and old fashioned. But in my consultng work, I am exposed to people every day, looking for two things: first, someone to blame for the current situation. Second, someone to solve their problems. Think about it. I’m betting you’ll agree.

Who is to blame? Our culture; high living standards and the unrealistic, never could have lasted bubble of the last 10 years. Who will solve it?  We will! The same people who allowed this country to get into the hole we’re in will pull us out. The only problem is that most younger workers and managers have never experienced anything like today’s business world. To them, it’s like a bad dream that never should have happened; not to America.

So, where are the answers? The solutions to our business probems are within every organization I work with. That’s right…every one! If we can just get over the shock and awe of realization that, as 9-11 was real, so is our bagged out economy. Once we accept that fact, we can begin to create positive, forward planning and ride the coming bounce out of this mess.

I guess my point is that, when times are tough, we should encourage individuals to come up with ideas and suggestions that we can at least try; creativity that, as in recessions, even depressions past, pulled us through.

One thing is certain, anyone who sits and waits for Washington to save us is in for a long, long wait!

Comments welcome!

Marathon Thinking Develops People

I don’t know about you, but if I had $10 for each time I’ve heard “nobody wants to work anymore” or “there just aren’t any good people in this business anymore,” I’d be rich.

Let’s set the record straight. First, neither statement is true! There are hard workers out there and there are lots of good people. The negative perception about workers is driven by two main factors: first, in today’s Green Industry, we tend to ask more of our people than in the past. Second, we fail to adequately prepare our people to multi-task at desired levels.

Why has this happened? The basic cause is that we have been forced to stretch as never before to make a decent profit.

Costs are higher; profits are shrinking. How does one recoup the deteriorating bottom line? Simple: Get more for each labor dollar.

The thought process has gone like this: “Gee, I can’t make a bag of fertilizer go any farther, and I can’t get nursery stock any cheaper. My fuel costs are stable now, but still way up and equipment costs are still growing. But labor, my people — that’s got to be the answer. No, I can’t lower their pay, but I can increase my expectations, set goals higher and get more out of them.”

It has happened gradually, sort of a creeping escalation of goals and added activities. At first, we told ourselves that if we eased it on them — the higher goals, the more and different tasks — people might grumble. But since they don’t want to lose their jobs, they’d adapt.

For a while that strategy seemed to work. But there is a breaking point beyond which people just won’t go. In many companies, that point was reached and surpassed years ago. The result was predictable: higher turnover and, as word spread about the changing work environment, inability to recruit effectively. Over time, many of our best players left the industry. Hence, “there just aren’t any good people anymore.”

The question to be answered is this: How do we rebuild quality teams, filling chairs with motivated, productive workers at all levels — management included?

I believe in people-centered “Marathon Thinking.” The strategy is to build a true people culture in the business. The focus is on developing the people who deliver our services consistently, not on maximizing short term productivity. The term Marathon Thinking refers to a mind set and development process that begins with well-planned recruiting and training, goals based on individual skills and daily management aimed at achieving small, reachable daily goals followed by consistent recognition. It’s a matter of behavioral conditioning — and it works! You develop people, not in a week or two but over time, one controlled step at a time.

Sign up for the marathon
The premise is that a person who wants the job and understands how to perform tasks successfully, in a supportive world where recognition and appreciation are ongoing, will succeed. That early success will drive the motivation, then to do even more and better work.

Below are plan requirements that will allow you to win with your employees using this strategy:

  • Commit to re-focusing your business model on achieving goals through people. People must become your key resource and drive results. Without this commitment, you’ll waste your time.
  • Plan human requirements farther ahead. Evaluate current staff twice annually and be ready to upgrade in the fall, before winter hiring. Do not keep non-performers or negative people.
  • Establish an effective recruiting plan that communicates the good things about your business. Over time, build your company reputation locally by participating and supporting local events and letting people know your jobs are good jobs.
  • Build your training program to focus on just what the employee needs to know first. Do not try to teach more than the new hire can learn easily. Appoint a trainer who wants the job.
  • Follow initial training with repetitive on-the-job coaching, enhancing gradual learning.
  • Recognize and reward consistently.

For more information, contact me at

All they want is a deal!

Hey, I just broke one of the cardinal rules of living life in a recession…I bought a quality product; and I paid full price for it! Before you conclude that I’m nuts, read on.

After another spring selling season in the green industry, I was almost convinced that the younger sales reps had it figured out. Day after day, all I heard from our sales reps was, “All they want it is a deal.”

For sure, I’d be an idiot to pretend people aren’t looking for deals; they always have, always will. Still, in a recession, the DEAL is king. At least in the mind of my less experienced friends.  When selling gets tough, the easiest thing to do is blame failure on the recession and give away your profit.

My point, simply that there is a lot more to selling than cutting price and, if you are a winner this year, I’m betting it’s because you have learned to go beyond the DEAL to selling what people really want…value! OK, sounds generic and general…value. Let me take it a bit farther. People want satisfaction. They want expectations met! And that, my friends, has zip to do with DEALS.

So, get smart, all knowing sales reps out there…learn to communicate what you have that competitors don’t. Learn to identify what prospects want before you “pitch” what you’ve been told to sell. And LISTEN to what your prospects are telling you. Selling, at its best, is a conversation, not a pitch.

Finally, use the discount to close the sale, never up front! You communicate how you will provide what the prospect wants, then, after differentiating your product or service from the pack, you use the recession focused discount as a closer.

Two days ago, I paid full price for a top quality chain saw. OK, the rep threw in the oil and gave me 10% off the price of the gas can..but I paid full price for the saw. Why? Am I stupid? Gullible? Nope. I paid because I wanted quality, reliability and customer service when the damn thing won’t start! So, I was buying more than a saw. And, to get it, I was willing to pay more. 

The point is, once again, people want and need more than a DEAL! Show them that you have it and you’ll be amazed at what people will pay. And, remember this, most people are NOT unemployed. They are living their lives frugally and making more careful choices, to be sure. But, people are still buying. Sell value. Fill wants and needs and don’t let yourself off the hook, blaming the recession or your boss because you can’t give away your product or service.

Wake up call for Gen Y workforce

Achtung! Wake up kids, it’s a new ball game!  Listen closely now, I’ve got a new word to add to your vocabulary….layoff.

Making my rounds as a small business consultant, in the past 90 days, I’ve noticed a perceptible change in the younger, less experienced workforce…the Gen Y folks in their early 20s. Now, I don’t want to make too much of this observation but…the new generation of workers is getting a rude awakening. No reason to repeat what you all know…times are tough. In some industries, real tough. And, compared to a just one year ago, layoffs are far more common.

Around the water cooler, staff members in the slowing home services business wonder…”Will I be next?”  As I said, to me, this newfound concern for job security is clear.

What does it mean? More importantly, what does it matter?  I believe those of us whose concern it is to manage and lead in tough times, have a real opportunity!  An older member of the management profession, I’ve seen it, lived it all before…backin the late 80s.  Recession then led to job cuts and more work for those who were kept on the team.  And, I must say, we learned alot about productivity, as delivered on a daily basis by concerned workers.

I suppose all I’m saying is….Maslow had it right! His well known “hierarchy of needs” theory is proven to be fact over and over again. Human beings react to the most urgent, most threatening situations in ways that preserve their lives and lifestyles. Nothing new here.  The point is, when people are worried about thier jobs, they tend to listen more closely to those who have the power to end their careers.  “What”, they wonder, “must I do to keep this job?” 

Smart leaders understand that, if only for a fleeting moment in time, Gen Y workers, self-possessed and focused on balance, flexibility and lots of control and immediate gratification in their lives, are going to pay more attention to how they can add value to the company.  This is a good thing!

Smart leaders will sieze the moment!  I’m not talking about grinding an extra 10 percent out of each frightened worker…I’m talking about teaching the new generation of workers how good they can be! Why? Because most have no idea how productive a person can be when focused on the task at hand vs. a consuming belief that life must be fun 24/7!

So, go for it boss! Crank up the training…have more team meetings. Let your best people know that, together, you will weather the recession and emerge a better, more productive team than ever before.

Teach your people to multi-task. Cross train everyone. Show people how good they can be and recognize the positive growth when you see it!

Let’s go America…time to turn off MSNBC and CNN…time to cut out the negative thinking….time to pull you team up by the boot straps! You can do it…your workers can do it….if you understand that it really does take an energized team approach to leading.

Go for it! After all…what is your next best option?

Layoffs and Cutbacks

So, everyone’s buzzing about hard times, a recession driven slow down and staff reductions. 

With all kinds of uncertainties, the most important question is….will I be on the cutback list?  Below, I’ll tell you how to know.  

First, though, understand I’ve lived through and survived several of these scenarios. I base my comments on those experiences. How did I make the “stay” list so often? Luck? Nope.  I was fortunate enough to score some important points; I had what the company wanted.  Do you?

If you have the guts to look honestly at yourself, not just at your self-image but the way others, especially superiors, see you, you will know what’s coming.

First, I’ll focus on the front line worker’s perspective:

1. Understand, companies cut from the bottom to the top. People with the power to cut, never cut themselves. Makes sense, right? Managers in the middle of your organization will be asked to force rank their teams, top to bottom.  If you fall in the lower half, start your job search now! Look at yourself vs. everyone else on your team.

2. Forced rankings place a net value on each employee.  The idea is to measure anything and everything you can do for your employer during this difficult period.  The more you can deliver, the higher your ranking.

3. To approximate your chances of surviving the next cut, take an honest, analytical look at yourself. Look not only at what you see but what others see in you. Focus on these areas of your performance:

*Can I be relied on to meet expectations 100% of the time, regardless of challenges?

*Do I complain about unusual assignments and the occasional request to do something extra…above and beyond my job description?

*How broad based and flexible am I? How many positions can I fill on at least a temporary basis.

*Am I a seen by others as postivie, a team player who is always part of the solution vs. the problemr?

*Do my senior managers like being around me? Do they voluntarily converse with me, making direct eye contact? Or, am I avoided?

*Am I a valuable multi-tasker?

*Do I have the potential to grow and develop as the current business climate brightens and the company regains it’s ability to grow?

*Finally, and you can’t underestimate the gravity of this one….what is the state of office and compnay politics? Who has been sucking up to whom? To whom are favors owed. How secure is your boss and what will he/she do to solidify his or her position. Will you become a “sacrificial lamb”?

Answer those questions and you’ll know whether or not to you are on the hit list.  Good luck!

Now, what about mid-level managers? If this is you, don’t think for a moment you are above it all.  The first thing top managers do in times of impending crisis, is to line up the “sacrificial lambs”. I’ve even seen top people promote these “lambs” so that when the day comes, they will have someone on whom to place blame, shielding themselves.  That’s just the way it is…survival of the fittest isn’t just a silly theory, it’s life.

So, managers in the middle, look at the above list of perceived values and evaluate yourself. Are you really vital to the success of your struggling organizaion? Or, are you an overpaid, fast-talker who has spent the last two or three years telling yourself how great you are. Look at the hard results of your efforts. Can you justify your position? If you were looking down the org chart at yourself, what would your judgment be?

Since you are nearer the top of the organization, you have more exposure to senior managers.  Evaluate your relationships. How are you viewed from above:

*Are you consulted before decisions are taken?

*Are you included in important meetings or sent a meeting summary?

*In meetings, are you and your topics consistently at the bottom of the agenda?

*When extra staff was last added, was it in your department of elsewhere?

*How did your department budget fair last time around?

Do you get the message? If you don’t feel the company places top value on your funtion, and this can be proven by answering the questions above, now it the time to polish up the resume and start networking..which you should have been doing all along.

And, to you, my mid-level friends, an extra measure of’ll need it!

New Administration, hard times, NOT business friendly

Like it or not, republican or democrat, the die is cast; there will be a measurable change in your business model, and soon.  My objective is not to sell you on a particular philosophy but to alert you to the inevitable.  With higher taxes on even small to mid-sized businesses and reduced discretionary spending, you owners and managers out there will now have to control costs more tightly.  If you don’t, the alternative will surely be less on the bottom line.

When growth comes, not from adding revenue and taking advantage of accompanying economies of scale but through budget crunching cost reductions, YOU WONT BE ADDING PEOPLE, will you. Soon, you will come to the realization that you are going to have to succeed with the people and equipment on hand.  And, if you are normal, this is a frightening concept.  

I’d like to suggest you think about the one thing that does make sense for the short-term future; get more productivity from the people you have!

I understand, asking today’s ‘gen y’ worker to do more is akin to blasphemy but…you gotta do what you gotta do.  The good news is, even workers who want more time off, more flexibility on the job and continuing benefits, even those folks will respond to greater recognition and an enhanced position on the team.

Think about it…the starting quarterback is injured. As he takes his seat on the bench, you look hopefully at the back up. You tell the back up; “This is your you can be somebody, you can help us win the game. And, when we win, YOU win.  More money, pride in knowing you are the best, maybe even a promotion to the staring team.” 

My point is, when you are in a pinch, if you understand how to impact human behavior, you can win every time.  So, you don’t  tell people times are tough, that the new congress has jacked your taxes and you will earn less money. You don’t say that because nobody but you cares! What you do say is this; “Team, I know everyone here is concerned about the economy, our jobs and our company future.  It’s natural to worry when all you see in the media is a growing unemployment number and businesses failing.  Well, we are not going to fail and YOU are not going to lose your jobs, period!  We’ve been handed a tough situation but, if we all pitch in, we will weather this storm…and we’ll do it by working together and working smart!

Having reassured your team, you explain that everyone, including you, the leader, will need to do more short-term but, when we win, everyone will share in the success. [Don’t say that unless you genuinely mean it]

What I’m suggesting is, in tough times, when you may even need to cut staff, you can still WIN with your core team. It requires “hands-on” coaching and an understanding that, if treated with a modicum of respect and shown they are important, no, vital to success, your people will work harder and do more to help your team win.

This is my consulting message to clients and I wanted to share it with you.  Thinks about your management style. Are you bossing or coaching?  Will your people go to battle for you becasuse they understand you will do the same for them? Or, are people simply cogs in a gear wheel?

Tough times require a refocused effort to create and maintain a positive workplace enviornment and it begins with letting your people know YOU CANNOT DO IT ALONE!

A Leader’s Secret Weapon

  “Can’t talk…gotta go”. 

 “Hey, boss, hang on…I got a question”.

 “I said I gotta go…upset customer”.

Humm….sound familiar?  Boss can’t talk to employee, has customer issue to resolve. And, of course, as we’ve all been taught, THE CUSTOMER COMES FIRST!  Or does he/she?

Take a closer look at how you really outght to run your business.  I have a slogan; I use it in all my triaining/consulting sessions. It goes like this: “CRM [Customer Relations Management] begins with ERM [Employee Relations Management].  Get my point?

I don’t care what business you are in, if you have customers, you need to focus on serving them in a special way.  If you don’t, in this economy, with choices galore, they will disapprear like the morning fog.

So, how do we successfully serve, retain and profit from our customer base? Through our people.

If you want happy customers, start by building a culture that includes and is based on happy people. “Can’t be done these days”, you say.  Wrong. It can is is being done…today.

Without a long explanation, suffice to say that a primary cause of business failure, is a preceding failure to focus on your key resouce, the human resource.  We work real hard on planning, figuring out how to execute, etc. But, when it comes to the people on whom we depend to make it happen, we spend little time and attention to ensure success. Period.

A moment on something I learned as a young, know-nothing econ student; The Pareto Principle. All who sell, or have ever sold anything, have heard of it.  Still, if the PP is unfamiliar, let me lay it out as concisely as possible.

In 1906, an Italian eonomist named Vilfredo Pareto, while studying the laws of distribution [how things are naturally spread out], discovered something important. Simply, that a majority [he figured about 80%] of the value of time spent and effort expended, came from a minority [he fiuured about 20%] of the things we do.  We get most of the return on our time and effort from a very few things we do during a typical day, week, month or year. Lately, this distribution principle has been termed, The Pareto Principle.

The lesson, to a young sales rep is, figure out who your highest potential customers are and spend you time with them. Don’t waste time on the masses that return little in payback for time invested.

The PP can be applied to management time in any business, as well. Ask do you spend your day….on things or on people?  Because people are tougher to deal with and control than things or tasks, we tend to gravitate to things we can control. Even familiar problems precede dealing with our people in terms of the percieved degree of difficulty and discomfort. So, for most managers/leaders, people come second.  The team comes second.

Now, that would be fine…except for one’s our people who enable us to succeed, to reach management and company objectives.  No doubt about it…as good old Vilfredo learned, you will get more bang from your time use and focus buck when you spend it on high payback activities that involve people!

What kind of activities? Oh, let’s start with recruiting, attracting the best in your business segment. Then, how about training them; ensuring they succeed, which, of course is hugely motivating to the worker, leading to greater productivity and lower staff turnover. And how about follow up coaching; reinforcing learning to form strong productive habits? Am I getting through?

Stop focusing on things, spend your time with your people and the investment will be returned 10 fold.

Smart managers and leaders know the secret to success…the secret weapon; the Pareto Principle.

Coaching Required for “Gen Y” Workers

Coaches Win – Bosses Lose!  It’s really as simple as that.  Try to “boss” today’s workers and you might as well hang out the white flag of surrender because it just doesn’t work.

Do you know there are almost 40 million “millineals” out there?  If you are a manager, or are involved in staffing, that fact alone should get your attention.  And, the “millineals” or “generation y” workers tend to think differently about work.

Basically, younger workers [between 18 and 26], today’s “millineals”, with more career choices, are pickier about where they work and why.  Even in a recessionary economy, workers have more career destination options than only a few years ago.  In our service economy, people are typically the key factor in determining a companies success or failure.  And workers make career decisions based on this premise; I will take a job if it looks good, but I will only keep it if it feels good.  And it had better feel good fast! Now that is changed thinking.

So, what’s new?  How have expanded career options impacted worker thinking? Here’s a starter list:

  • I no longer work to live, I live to work, my way.
  • I don’t take a job to make my company a success, I work to get what I want from the company.
  • I want maximum flexibility with a minimum of rules, procedures and boundries.
  • I’m convinced my lack of experience simply makes it easier for me to see the world objecivley and that “old time” managers are jaded by the screwed up life they’ve lived.
  • I want money, and I want benefits, and I want them day one on the job.
  • I expect a complete training program with lots of “hands-on” follow up on the job.
  • I demand respect … before I’ve earned it.
  • I want my opinions included in the decision making process…whether or not I have an intelligent idea.
  • I want to be taught, not told
  • I want you to sell me, not tell me.

I could go on…but won’t.  The point is, if you are in a position of hiring, training or leading people in today’s workplace, you’d better learn to be a coach vs. a boss! You’d better understand that the way to keep your winners is to teach them how to succeed, and begin day one!  If you stake your management success on a building great plan and simply make assignments, without concern for worker motivation to hit your goals, you’ll come up short every time.

Houston, we have a problem; many of today’s managers haven’t lived in this “new world” of people management. They have not been coached, they have been bossed. They are the survivors of an outdated management culture. And many sturggle mightly to lead effectively.  They simply don’t have the requisite skills.

Back in the 20th century, lots of research was done on people, and their attitudes about working.  Most managers fell into a style described as “Theory X”.  These folks believe in work, period. Hard work built America. It’s the task that’s important, not the person doing it. People, they believed, don’t really want to work but will do so if, and only if pushed, prodded and threatened.  No surprise, this thinking came from the hardships of the great depression. During the 30s and 40s, the period before WWll, people took any job they could find.  Of course, many hated what they did each day but working  put food on the table. 

Things are different today. Even in our recessionary economy, workers have more choices. So far, putting food on the table has not been an issue; not for most. Today, gen y workers struggle with decisions like which laptop to buy or where they’ll sit at the critically important concert this weekend. They want to spend more time on themselves, less at work.  Fewer hours, more flexibility, that is ther objective.  They want choices, and they want them now.

So, in view of this undeniable paradigm shift, will you lead effectively? Will you be able to accomplish your business goals through people? Or, will you sit back and complain about how nobody wants to work anymore. Your choice.

These days, I spend most of my time helping managers cope with the unavoidable requirement to learn leadership skills, to impact behavior.  Anyone, I believe, can learn to lead, and must.

Building new human interaction or coaching skills requires ongoing management learning.    Take a close look in the mirror. Ask yourself if you are prepared to win with people.

A few questions for you:

1. Are you a coach or boss? Do you understand the difference?

2. Is employee turnover an issue in your business?

3. Are you attracting enough of the right people?

4. Do you prioritize tasks or people?

5. When performance is unsatisfactory, do you know how to change it?

6. Do your team members respect or resent you?

7. Do you inspire your team to achieve, to be the best they can be?

8. Bottom line, are you living in the management past?

In Tough Times, Smart Businesses Focus on Differentiation

I do lots of presentations on serving the customer.  And each time I begin, I see the faces up front, doubting, hoping, wondering “What is there about customer service that hasn’t been said, and said, and said again?”  “Please, don’t tell me to do what we all know I cannot do…make them love me!”

So, I ease into the topic.  “Why” I ask, “do you suppose customers fire us?” I get blank stares.  Savvy managers know it’s typically not anything we’ve done to the customer…it’s the total impact of the customer experience that deals the death blow.  I forge ahead.

“To understand why we are fired by our valued customers, we must look at how they became customers in the first place!”  I talk about how customers are sold; how we set expectations.  And I do that because that is the starting point for developing a serious reputation for service excellence.

Now, I’m a consultant working mostly in the home services industry…landscaping, lawn care, pest control, etc.  So, my clients typically don’t interact with customers face to face that often…unless of course, there is trouble. Then, half of them cancel service without ever letting us know of their dissatisfaction! Wow! What’s a service company to do? Is there a process that will translate into customer loyalty?  Briefly…sure.

This is a big topic.  For purposes of this post, I simply want to expose the topic and see what interest there is in exploring the process for building what I refer to as E-Service or, defined my way, E for excellence in service.

What is E-Service? My defininition is ‘doing whatever it takes to make each customer feel special.’  That’s it.  Not complicated but not easy either.

Is it possible? Yep, I work with businesses doing it every day.  How do they make it happen? Again, not complicated…but not easy either.  They go about the work of creating a true CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE.  It can and does happen. I see it, so, I know it’s real.
What are the requirements? First, and most vital to success, is a top down recognition that, without a reputation for service excellence in today’s service industry, you have one and only one thing to offer….price. And, as we all know, when you sell with price, you lose customers the same way…to the first ‘low baller’ who comes along and undercuts you.

It is possible to differentiate with service. This sort of differentiation is not new. Nordstroms and Southwest Airlines, each a representative of the high and low end products in their respective industries, have done it for decades.  So, it can be done.

In hard economic times…like the ones we face today and will in 2009, I believe it’s worth looking at creating added value through E-Service.  As I said, it involves and requires a paradigm shift for most organizations. Still, it can and is being done.  Some of initial moves are bullet pointed below.

  • Recognition that selling price leads to low quality sales and no customer loyalty.
  • Setting reasonable expectations is a must in the marketing-sales message.
  • The sales process must provide continuity with the marketing message and brand reputation.
  • Service delivery must mirror expectations set.
  • The E-Service company will subscribe to the philosophy that “If you see a problem, you own the problem.”
  • Service delivery and satisfaction levels are closely monitored. Results drive business tactics.
  • Employees are trained and cross trained to appreciate all team functions.
  • Communications skills are an absolute….and using them is NOT an option.
  • Customer ‘touch points’ are maximize and a personal, almost intimate relationship developed.
  • E-Service companies establish customer focused lines of authority and a reasonable escalation policy for problem-complaint resolution.
  • E-Service companies have a well thought out ‘service recovery’ process, ensuring that quick problem resolution resulting in complete customer satisfaction and brand strengthening.

These are a few of the skeletal fundamentals that are basic to the E-Service philosophy.  If you are interested, let me know it with a comment below.

Developing Teams – It’s About Time To Get Serious!

In the spring of 2008, I made over a dozen presentations to business groups interested in learning how to be more effective and successful managers. 

When they hired me, these folks knew they were going to hear about one thing, leading, or managing if you prefer, people.   After 20 years in management training, that is the part of the business I understand best.


In every instance, whether I was speaking at a trade show and conference or to a private business management team, in one way or another, I asked this question; what is your most vital resource?  To clarify, if you had to pick one resource that, if properly used, will lead to success, what would it be?  And I offer these choices; Products? Equipment? Operating capital? Credit? Marketing programs? People?  And in every instance the answer is the same; people are the key resource in building a successful business.  It’s not that other resources aren’t required; it’s that they are more easily acquired and managed.  If you accept that as fact, let’s move on.


Again this season, as in every spring since 1985 [when I began training/consulting], I encountered owners and managers who struggled mightily with people. It has to be the single biggest frustration we face. 


As an example, reflecting on my experience with one company, the sequence of events goes like this:

  1. Plan the year…marketing strategies and details.
  2. Create the annual budget with all known costs, revenue projections, etc.
  3. Set timelines/benchmarks for activities, marketing, sales, and production.
  4. Oh yea, people!  Do we have enough of them?


And the story repeats itself to a greater or lesser degree in 90% of the businesses I encounter.


My point; everything is nailed down…except for people.  Smart managers plan and strategize.  Owners and top managers with valuable experience lay out the year, deal with banks and vendors.   We know it pays to contact each customer and confirm their business for next year.  So, many make the time to do that.  But staffing with the right people? Gee, time to get the ad in the paper.  Bad.


Enough ‘brow beating’.  The intent of this article is to make you think about developing your team.  My goal is to get you to put people on the top of your resource planning list and do it now!  The intended result will be to begin 09 with the best prepared core of people you’ve ever had.  Does it take time? Yes.  Will you invest more labor dollars up front? Yes.  Is it a smart business move? Yes…if you do it properly, as part of an overall people strategy that builds teams vs. just filling chairs.


Mistakes to eliminate:

  • Assuming your best, core people are satisfied and will be there when you need them most.
  • Assuming staffing is pretty much a ‘roll the dice’, run the ad and see what happens game you play without predictable results.
  • Assuming you can start new hires and bring them up to speed in a week or two.
  • Assuming training and daily coaching will happen without specific, focused plans in place.
  • Assuming you can’t control new hire turnover.


Strategies I’ve seen work to develop people:


  • Assess your staff.  Don’t assume you know a person’s mind.  If you want to build a team of loyal, committed players, you must begin by confirming that motivationally, your veteran leaders are ‘on board’ and supportive of your business philosophy and practices.  If not, they will sink your ship, guaranteed.  Have a one-on-one with core team members.  How did the year go for them?  Are they getting bored, need a challenge or expanded responsibility.  What can you do for them that will motivate them to help you?
  • Designate a competent person to handle new hire recruiting and on-boarding.  It’s time to get serious about bringing on the best new hires.  You cannot develop someone who is simply doesn’t have what it takes or who has taken the job for invalid reasons.  Understand, you can control this process and, do a large degree, the results will be predictable.  The days of finding the best new people in the classified ads are gone.  You’ve got to be more pro-active than in the past.

          Sales reps find jobs on the internet.  Go to ‘monster’ or ‘career builder’   and be pro-active!  Scan resume’s listed and contact them!  This takes time.  Assign the responsibility or do it yourself but don’t sit, waiting and hoping ‘the ad works’.

          21st workers search specific, industry focused internet sites. So, get familiar with sites that address your industry and business.

          Use your best employees to find additional labor.  Create incentives for successful ‘in house’ recruiting.


Don’t let incompetent people conduct screening interviews!  Prepare and role-play the hiring  questions in advance.  Be sure you are looking at past performance as the best indicator of future results.  And, for most jobs, I place a candidate’s attitude above all else in scoring the interview. 


Show candidates your ‘best face’ but present the job honestly with clear expectations and rewards.  A candidate will be asking him/herself “Why should I work here”.  You must effectively answer the question in their mind.


Don’t forget the interview setting.  What are the physical surroundings like?  Clean or disorganized?  The physical environment means a lot.  Walk outside and come back in.  Would you want to work here?  Is your office private, uninterrupted?  Desk cluttered?  All this matters.



  • New hire on-boarding must be a positive experience.  Bring new hires into a positive, organized and well planned training, learning environment.  Show the new team member how he/she is now an important team member.  Introductions are first.  How does the new hire fit into the group?  Give the new person an opportunity to spend some time with each veteran and get to know them unsupervised.  You are going through a process called ‘socialization’ and it takes time.  Be sure that each day of the first few weeks is planned and controlled to ensure a positive start and finish.  The new person should be given limited goals, followed by honest but consistent positive reinforcement as they learn and gradually take on more responsibility.  When new people feel important, respected and succeed, they don’t quit.


  • Provide ‘hands-on’ daily coaching after the initial training period.  It is vital that the each new person on your team is brought on-board with enough advance time to go through a reasonable learning period without undue stress.  ‘Hands-on’ coaching is an investment of time and effort that is not only worth making, it is key to the new person’s success.  You or your designated ‘recruiting/training’ person can be this coach.  Or, the immediate supervisor can do the job.  But someone must prioritize and maintain consistent daily contact, coaching and reinforcement of early learning.  Though daily coaching, the new hire will learn and form the right habits quickly.  To throw new people out on the job without initial training and follow up coaching simply does not work.  Your investment in the recruiting, on-boarding and follow up coaching process must become an integral part of the annual business plan.



  • Provide visible ‘top-down’ examples of positive leadership.  Practice what you preach.  If you truly want to build a team of loyal, ‘can-do’ players’, your people must see exactly those traits in you.  Telling people to be considerate of customer’s feelings and needs, then failing to do the same with your staff, sends an undeniable double message.  If your people feel you highly value your customers but treat the staff with less caring and concern, your people will simply leave.  Think about how you treat customers vs. your people.  Be honest. If you place the same priority on your employees feelings about you as you do the opinions of your best customers, I guarantee turnover will drop!  So, don’t assume high turnover.  Be certain you have a positively motivating work place environment.


With limited space, I have tried to address some of the most impactful and controllable factors we all face as people managers and leaders.  The suggestions I make have been proven to work in the real world.  How much you need to change, how seriously you take the people challenge is up to you.









Selling in Tough Economic Times

I’ve been selling and training sales reps most of my adult life.  I’ve succeeded and I’ve failed. Importantly, I’ve learned.


In difficult economic times, when the media saturates the airwaves with warnings that the sky will surely fall, and doom and gloom are our future, selling gets even tougher.  That is, unless you understand HOW to sell in what buyers want. Good luck!


I’m old enough, been around long enough to have trained sales reps during the 1987 recession.  Then, as now, albeit with less media frenzy, the word was out…you can’t sell during a recession!  At my company, we forged ahead.  We fine tuned the process, worked real hard on fundamentals and focused on communicating to our prospects, what we had that made sense no matter the economic conditions.


Bottom line, there are some things people need in tough and good times; things they will buy anytime, all the time.  Food, booze and some sort of self-gratifying leisure fulfillment are all on the list.


Something else that makes good sense to the buying public is an investment in their number one asset, their home.  Having spent considerable time in the home services business, including the 87 recession, I learned how to sell right into the economic ‘bounce’ that follows every downturn.  We learned to sell value.


Hear me out; selling value is not a vague process. While the word, value, needs definition, when defined in terms of your product or service offering, and effectively communicated to logical prospective buyers, it sells!


In my training role, the job was clear…help define our company’s value proposition and teach our sales people to communicate it professionally and effectively.  Did I say sales people…my bad. I taught everyone on our staff why we were a great investment.  Unless you don’t care what your employees think about you and your business, and unless you believe they will never talk to a customer or prospect, better teach everyone how to communicate your unique benefits to the buying public.


This year, in my training/consulting work, it’s already started.  My phone is ringing now..and the caller will be in panic mode.  What I’ll hear is “How am I going to grow in this economy?”  Right behind the sales question will be “How am I going to keep my customers, to insure repeat business?”


The answer to both questions is to focus your sales and customer service process management, as well as your staff training on communicating value, your unique value to the customer. If you can, you’ll be fine. If not, it’s going to be a long, cold winter.  Let me know if you need some help.

All Behavior is a Function of it’s Consequences!

Ever hear that line before? Sound like psycho-bable? Shrink speak? Well, BINGO! That is precisely what it is. And, oh…by the way…it happens to be true!

Just back from a consulting visit with a good client. The owner and senior manager are very interested in improving management and staff performance. They want things….like customer service, to work better for the company. They want fewer customer complaints, fewer lost customers, and greater lifetime values. That’s what they want.

Reviewing recent issues, situations poorly resolved or left dangling for a later day….I did what I always do…I called it as I saw it…warts and all. Nobody disagreed. In fact, everyone felt my analysis was spot on…to use an MBA phrase for an accurate description of what is what!

Then, the good part. I laid out a couple of options, things that could be done to create improved performance. Each involved confronting the realities of today, to bring about a better tomorrow…for all. Each option required management to draw a line in the sand and commit to changing the status quo. Each would mean that what is wrong today, will be gone tomorrow.

Guess what happened. To quote senior management…”We don’t want to go that far”. Huh? Then why am I here,  I wondered. “Just do the best you can to explain the right way to do things”, was the direction given to me. “OK”, I replied..and that is what I did.

What will change? Nothing. Why? Because behavior really is a function or the result of how we, as leaders, repond to it. Not complicated. When unacceptable behavior is met with a “discussion” of what should be…but no other reaction, the message is “we think you ought to change your behavior but..if it’s uncomfortable for you…fine.” And so it goes.

My mesage today is…first, don’t begin initiating change unless you are willing to follow through. But, if you are, you can change behavior with your serious and ongoing reactions to what you see happening. And your reaction to poor performance cannot be a suggestion; your reaction must be a declaration in word and deed that, from this day on, some of the things we do, will be done differently. No big deal; no revolution; just modified behavior. Then, as you take each small, easy step toward improved behavior, you celebrate and reward it! Your positive response will keep the changes going. Behavior will improve because the consequence of doing it old way will be corrective action in the form of a negative and unswerving response from leadership.

Honest, can be done. But you must be less willing to put up with unacceptable behavior than you are to confront reality. I can tell you this…people like to be led. Leadership and positive direction will, over time, be met with improved behavior. But, you can’t stick your head in the sand and expect a consulting to make it happen!

Sorry to rant but…as I learn over and over again, wishful thinking has never and will never change behavior. Your reaction to the performance of your staff must be real, serious and continuous.

Good luck!

Growing in a down economy? You must be kidding!

Yesterday, I participated in an industry sponsored webinar on surviving, even growing in a recession. For a first effort, I felt it was a success…as 325 contractors/operators signed up for the event.

My message, as it is in all my training, was that, if you take time to differentiate your company/product/service from the competition..and communicate the real, tangible value of the differences, you CAN sell and grow in a recession. I have clients who grew 18-23% this year…top and bottom lines! That is a fact.

Yesterday’s blog post on leaving the doom and gloom behind and getting back to business was based on this year’s positive experience. Since yesterday, a couple of people contacted me…telling me I was just another consultant…planting unrealistic expectaitons in the minds of generate business.

Holy cow! How silly! I am reporting what my clients are doing. Believe it or don’t, your call. But this I know, small to mid-sized businesses I work with are making it happen. To me, that’s good news and I intend to use my blog to tell the story.

Value sells…the probem is…we don’t take the time to hone our communications skills and we don’t tightly manage our marketing/sales process. If you want a more detailed discussion, let me know.